What prompted your decision to move and work at the Universiti Technologi Brunei (UTB)?
I moved recently to work at UTB as a Professor of Food Chemistry in the School of Applied Sciences and Mathematics. I had been appointed earlier, but I had to join later due to prior work commitments for my previous roles in Sweden and also overseas.
I had heard of Brunei and thought it would be an exciting and challenging opportunity.The lack of discrimination was the main reason for my move as I had heard there is no age, gender, race or religious discrimination in Brunei. This was very important to me. In addition to this, the salary scale in Brunei was also attractive to me as it is very competitive.
How did you prepare for the move?
Everything went very smoothly when I relocated, especially with housing arrangements on arrival. UTB were flexible and accepted that I had prior commitments in Sweden. I needed to get a visa but this was all handled by UTB and they have a very good procedure in place for academics who are coming from abroad. They organised all the administration for me and I just had to send a scanned copy of my passport. I had to provide a signature when I arrived but they organised a car to drive me to the immigration office, other authorities and the bank to finish all the paperwork.
How do you find the Higher Education sector in Brunei?
Brunei are currently investing a lot of money in education and they have strong ambitions to improve. The university system is run in a very similar way to other commonwealth countries and this means the system can be described as being a mirror image of the British system.
UTB are aiming to have innovative products in the market and Brunei would like to be self-sustainable in the future and, therefore, they are investing quite heavily in many different sectors, such as Agri-Food. The students I have met so far at the university have also been fantastic! They are generally much politer than I have experienced in previous roles and they have a lot of respect for their teachers. The students can be a bit shy but, overall, I have found them to be very kind and they follow instructions well.
How does university teaching differ from the UK/overseas experience you have had?
I really enjoy the teaching style here. I have allocated hours for tutorials and lab work which makes the hours very reasonable. I have 8hrs of teaching per week which is broken down into 4 hours for tutorials/lab work and 4 hours for active teaching. Of course, there is also a lot of project work and assignments on top of this and the hours of work obviously vary depending on your role and which programme area you are in. The teaching style in Brunei is currently focussed on developing 360-degree active engagement, team-based learning, and critical thinking skills of the students.
As mentioned before, the students are much more understanding than I have found in previous institutions. If we are missing any resources in the lab they are very patient and are happy to use alternatives.
What have you enjoyed most about your job in Brunei?
What I enjoy most at UTB is that research interactions and collaborations are encouraged between different schools and this allows good networking opportunities. For example, food sciences and other engineering schools frequently work together. Promoting interaction like this is quite a unique opportunity for cross-sectional research activities. Research centres are set up and they consist of members of different schools and this leads to the sharing of ideas and lab resources which is a great idea when there are limited supplies.
Outside of UTB, one of the things I enjoy most about Brunei is the warm climate. The temperature is warm all year round which makes quite a big difference to what I experienced in Sweden! I also really like that the forests and the natural environment are not disturbed unlike in Indonesia and Malaysia. The social life in Brunei has also been very enjoyable for me. The people I have met have all been very friendly and helpful and we have already had a few families come round to our house from both inside and outside of the university.
Did you have any language issues?
The language issues have been minimal for me. Staff members at the university all speak English and my children go to school without any problems. The only time I have had small difficulties have been at the local market where English can be limited, but all settled with surroundings. Whenever there have been issues though, the person and others have always been very friendly and kind!
How has working overseas helped your career?
Working overseas has provided me with the opportunity to make a real difference and implement new ideas or views where I am located. My international experience has led to the setup of new labs, facilitating knowledge-transfer and this has been established in previous roles overseas. Often, I have been responsible for training, postgraduate program and supervising students and staff members. The overseas experience can help me to establish new projects, methods and instruments, facilitate postgraduate student mobilities and suggest new structural concepts to an institution.
Do/did you face any particular challenges?
The first challenge I faced was getting a role as a teacher as it takes a while to adapt to the new system. I usually start with quite a low profile so I need to work hard to adapt and increase efficiency.
Another challenge, which is not work-related, is the transport systems. In Brunei, everyone is reliant on their car and it takes a lot of time to drive everyone to where they need to be in the day! Finding a car and knowing how to get around was also a challenge, especially because I am used to right-hand-driving. It took me 2-3 months to properly settle, but my new colleagues always comment that I have been integrated very quickly.
Have you got any advice for other academics planning to work/return to Brunei?
I would advise that anyone looking to work at UTB should consider looking for accommodation that is close to the university. You will also need to get a car to travel around. Brunei is a small country but you still have to travel quite a bit to get to school, the shops and the university. The market is open quite late but it is certainly a good idea to get a car early. It might also be a good idea to take some extra pocket money with you as it can take a few weeks to sort out setting up your new bank account and your salary for cash-flow. It is unlikely that there will be any delays, but it is good to be aware and make sure you are prepared.
What are the top 3 reasons you choose to work for your current institution?
My main reason was that it is a young university and the School of Food Sciences is quite new. They needed quite a lot of new expertise in different disciplines and I thought this would be a good challenge for me. Another reason is that natural resources and biodiversity are very high in Brunei. This opens up the opportunity to allow for more ingredients for research. I was also attracted to work at UTB because I was aware that there is a national wide investment in agriculture food to develop the agriculture sector in Brunei. This provided me with a challenging opportunity to explore new research innovations and techniques.
Any other comments?
I would definitely encourage people to come and work at UTB! There is a wonderful climate in Brunei and I have found everyone to be extremely friendly. The university works as a team and you receive a lot of help and assistance to make sure you are fully settled in your new role. Finally, the salary is very competitive in Brunei compared to international standards. Therefore, the living costs are high and it is comparable to Singapore
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